Be the Cause

Life is Beautiful – Virenbhai’s Update

It was amazing. As soon as I shot out our version of the Manav Sadhna weekend from June 30th to July 3rd, moments later, we got a version from Virenbhai on the same weekend. We were engaged in writing about the weekend at the exaxt same time without knowing of each others’ intent. Amazing!

Here is Virenbhai update on the weekend:

With our luck and blessings of God, 16 volunteers of Be The Cause decided Manav Sadhna Ahmedabad India as the place for them to go for two-week service vacation in January 2006. Six months after that, they all invited their friends and family to share the experience and what they learned in this two week service vacation. They wanted to create a little India for an evening in a very nice place in Irvine LA. I just could not wait to go to this event and see every one again.
As I was looking for a good deal for the flight to LA my bhani Bindi came to the rescue by finding the best deal for me. My family and friends were all very happy and inspired to here what this trip was all about. Flight delayed by 2 hours gave me 3 hours of airport stay. But the excitement of meeting every one soon, made it very easy. Actually it is amazing to chill at these places and see every one running and rushing around trying to get some where!.
Every other bags on the conveyor look just like mine, did not make things easy after arrival. Conveyor stopped. I could not find my bag so I approached the counter and the lady pointed me to the bunch of bags that other (similar) people took it off the belt on the other side of the belt. I found my bag and as I look up I see a unknown man going for my neck with beautiful bid neckles . Thank God Britny was with him so quickly I recognized THE CAUSE of the Be The Cause monk Sukh. The humblest man who spends every moment just giving. Laura drove us back to Sukh’s famous Garage. It was so nice to be welcomed by Nirali with a beautiful smile, pure love and with a traditional welcome. We all prayed in this temple for little while. The simplicity and lack of possessions in this Garage will inspire any one. One room, no TV, no bad no furniture!
A special diner was planed for the evening in a beautiful restaurant. It is hard to describe the joy of meeting all our BTC family. It was a very special evening. What made it special were to here the inspirational changes that many of them made in the lives to travel further in this path of love and service. Laura resigned her excellent paying job in search for the job to serve. Angle became nurse to serve more people in pain. Nirali decided to leave USA and give up all that she earned and worked for to return to India and continue to serve and progress. Her kindness love and spiritual dedication inspired me very much. Carolina joined many local service places and found her hometown in a new way of place to serve. Angela is serving every day to 50 countries under this amazing organization. Jason quit many things that used to be things that he can’t live without. I can go on and on ….. but the point is that it was one special and inspiring evening. I MISSED ALL OF YOU VERY VERY MUCH. I was hosted at Bhartiben’s house an official BTC guesthouse. BTC mother and father greeted me with a big smile and Jaishrikrishna that night in their beautiful, peaceful house full of love and humor.

Three huge boxes of our Gramashree things landed at Bindi’s house just in time. So the SF gang gathered and tagged, priced and organized the stuff to load up for the drive to LA. After driving for a long time Bhaniba and Soham and his sister arrived in the morning. As always it was a very happy moments to see Bhaniba and Soham and his sister. We went to Seema’s house for lunch, which is surprisingly 1 mile from Bhartiben’s. Seema’s mom Naynben and Bhartiben are good friends for a long time. It is hard to describe how nice it was to see Shri Dada, Ba, Naynaben, Kiritbhai and masi. Many awesome memories of Ekta came back in that house. They invited couple other people to meet us also. Uni, his brother and friend drove 3 hours to meet us at seema’s house also. We all had excellent lunch. It was the best testing idli sambhar I had in a long time. Dada was as always very strong and inspiring. Seeing dada after a long time made me very happy. It was one of the high light of the trip. We all missed Seema and all of you guys very much.
We all rushed to the event place at 4pm. It was a very beautiful hall. Bunch of young volunteers were waiting for us to get guided. As we setup the GS exhibition other BTC family members arrived. The place got decorated with beautiful rangolis and lights and ornaments in one hour! It was hard to get used to Sukh all clean-shaven in a nice Kurta!
But he made it all easy by being Sukh playing the dhol to welcome the guests that he inspired a friend to donate for the event. Many volunteers were cooking and helping. Sikh community sponsored more Indian food. Bahai people managed the renting of the hall for the event. The event started right on time. Over 200 guests arrived. It was so nice to see all the family and friends of our BTC family. Big excitement was to see our John at this event. Spending time with him is always a “Satsnag.” It was so nice for him and Toye to drive all the way from SF just for that evening.
The event started with the prayer. Our Om Tatsat prayer brought tears in my eyes.
Jason kicked off the presentation with a nice job of MC. I was so happy to see the pictures of all of you and specially our kids on the big screen. It moved every one in the room to here the experiences and presentations of all 16 volunteers. I missed every MS soul so much. You all would be so proud and happy to here what they expressed about MS and India ,what they experienced and how that changed their lives going forward. Nirali gave an amazing and very powerful speech. It was so well written and from the heart. I followed after her un prepared and not sure what I was going to speak about. I still not sure what I spoke about but I got emotional remembering our kids and their selfless love and how God lead us and help us in this beautiful work for service. At one point embracing the love of innocent kids and God in my life as I was speaking could not stop tears and made almost every one in the room cry. John shared his thoughts of spreading of kindness so beautifully and highlighted the upcoming seva café project. Sukh closed it with very inspirational story and speech. Followed with a beautiful volunteered entertainment. The lady voice was magical. Many people left the event with a promise that they are so inspired and motivated that they will serve in some way starting tomorrow.
It was cool to see Dr. Soham making all the attempt to sell the women clothing at the booth with Bindi and his sister. Angira did a fabulous service of decorating and presenting the products. All that hard work was all worth it. The products were so beautiful and people were so kind we sold $750 worth of stuff! Seema’s family and Soham’s mom also came to the event. Every one wanted to dance with the dhol but it was too late in the night. Had no desire to get arrested for disturbing the neighbor hood with the dhol hanging our necks. Missed India again so much.
Sunday morning after getting the well deserved sleep we just hangout in the beautiful back yard of Bhartiben’s house. We had excellent satsang time with Bharatbhai, Nirali and Bhartiben. After lunch Nirali took me to a beautiful Ramkrishna Ahram in the middle of woods and mountains. Bindi and Soham joined us also. We all meditated for an hour in a very charged and awesome mediation bhoonga style round room. They have a beautiful statue of Shri Swami Vivekanad as you enter in the Ashram. The architecture of this place is beautiful. They have 3 mile long walking trail and on the way they have 5 stations with 5 different religion symbols. The walk on it will be like a pilgrimage. Need less to say that I missed all of you and you all were in my heart and soul at all those places.

We all went to Sukh’s GARAGE for diner. Every one arrived before us and we were surprised with the Dhol and dance for welcome. The love and bonding was beyond words can describe. They all brought awesome food. They had setup just like at Niralis house. Many times it was tough because it was so much to receive and absorb from all of them. I was so happy and blessed to give one by one a big huge special hug on behalf of all of you and all our kids.
We all shared the most adventures moments of our lives. Many of them said Trip to India was an adventure for them. After the wonderful diner many of them started drumming dancing and having a good time. I was surprised with the best gift of all a beautiful picture of all BTC friends in front of Red fort Delhi signed by every one. I just cant wait to share this picture with you all an to put it on our MS wall. Some of us went in the GARAGE and shared thoughts and stories. Many beautiful things were shared for the Sukh and no matter what we say is not enough about the love, humbleness and simplicity of this blessed soul. As Gnadhiji said “My life is my message” same thing is true for Sukh. When I was requested for a bhajan in that holy place I had to sing Vaishnavjanto followed with beautiful songs for Jesus by Laura sister’s girls and Sohams holy slokas, Guru Nanak dhun and in closing couple of Spanish songs by Carolina and Soham. It was one of the most powerful evenings of my life. Me, Nirali and Sukh meditated for little while and left his place thanking the Universe in silence.

Next morning after quick breakfast we went to meet Don at Angeles office. She has set this amazing meeting with this blessed man. Sukh and Laura also came for the meeting. He reminded so much of Shri Saheb. The man is so down to earth and doing purely the God’s work. In six years, Free Wheel Chair Mission have donated 1,60,000 wheel chairs in 50 countries. To see him in his office working in his own wheel chair though he dose not need one is a blessing. He doses that so that he can keep improving the design. Manav Sadhna will be getting the first shipment of wheel chairs by Nove- December. So that we can get ready for all the Govt. requirements. Who knows we might even find some one to make the wheel chairs in India so that we don’t need to Import. Listening the stories from him about how immediate and what difference it makes in the lives of people that crawls on earth all day long. It was one inspirational hour. We all prayed together.
Listening to beautiful music in Laura’s awesome car we all went to Seva Café LA! The name will be Seva Café. The place is so cozy and so much likes our Seva Café in Ahmedabad already. It is perfect and beautiful project and location for BTC and LA. Every one is so pumped up and exited about this already. They have one of the best sandwiches I had in a long time. Excellent food, excellent location and endless possibilities. We prayed for little while in this place. The Laura’s little nieces blessed the place with beautiful songs of Jesus and with couple of slokas I invited Ganpatidada to bless the place. As we were doing all of this, Nirali pointed out to a picture of Swami Vivekanand on top of us already blessing every one.
As we were having so much fun and peace in this place we loose the track on time. We rushed to the airport almost in silence trying to soak up the three blessed days with events full of love, fun, inspiration, and peace. Prayers, kindness and bonding.
As I settled in the plain go back to Chicago all I can think is THANK YOU BHOLENATH LIFE SURE IS BEAUTIFUL!

Beyond Words: Manav Sadhna Weekend 6/30 – 7/3

I think Viren Joshi said it best when he said that Words are not enough.

How can one explain a silence that speaks, an emptiness that fills, a moment that seems to last eternity? Last weekend has been one that I would label as Beyond Words. The Manav Sadhna weekend.

Even in this moment, I sit in a room that seems to have changed somehow. With Virenbhai’s chanting, John and Thoi’s meditation sits, and BTC volunteer’s sharing of food and gratitude, somehow, these four walls have changed again.

Friday afternoon, Laura, Brittany and I pull up at the airport to find Virenbhai receiving his luggage. He doesn’t recognize my face, but I recognize his simplicity. He looks just like any ordinary man: golf shirt, jeans, black suitcase, graying mustache, and a down-to-earth smile. At first glance you would never expect that this man could change your life.

I immediately feel as if it would be good for me to carry his luggage.

We drive to my home where Nirali is awaiting with a surprise. We open the door and Virenbhai is greeted with a traditional Indian welcome. A small flame passionately dances on a plate as it circles around Virenbhai’s face. The glow of light is mirrored on Virenbhai’s face as it is on Nirali’s. I know that my home is being blessed.

We enter the main room… and it begins from there. We sit in silence for a few minutes before Virenbhai is inspired to share a few prayers. Now the fire dances within us.

After a brief snack we make our way to Rutabagorz restaurant in the city of Orange. During dinner we all decide to share what we have been up to since we last saw Virenbhai in India 6 months ago. Jason started off with an astonishing announcement. In seven days he is going to become a vegetarian!!! That was a tough one to follow, but all the volunteers had inspiring changes to share. Most volunteers mentioned how the trip to India in December was making them more compassionate, more introspective, and more filled with faith.

Having conveniently forgotten my wallet at home, I had little say in how the bill was to be paid. It went around the table and everyone pitched in their fair share. When the bill reached the last person, it magically reversed and started to make its way backwards. Overwhelmed with generosity, the last person to receive the bill decided to cover the entire expense. Of course a battle of wits ensued as no-one was willing to take their money back. After a brief moment of (non)violence it was decided that all the money left over would go towards the launch of the Seva Cafe. Someone even donated on my behalf :)

After dinner, Virenbhai arrived at Bharti’s, Bharat’s and Nirali’s home. On his bed were numerous gifts that the travelers had put together as a surprise for Virenbhai. Our own version of the gift bag that we all received when we first arrived in India.

I went back to my home in Garden Grove where I was to await long time friends: John Silliphant, and Thoi Pham. They were driving down from the Bay Area to be here for the Saturday night event. The comings and goings of friends in my home seems to be what keeps this place intact. The strength of the goodness that flows through here feels stronger than the cement foundation that keeps the walls upright.

Saturday morning Nirali, Bharti, Virenbhai, Bindi and Soham made their way to the Evening in India event while John, Thoi and I went out for Vietnamese food. We also picked up the Indian Dhol Drum that would be used to welcome all the guests at the event. The arrangement of the Dhol was literally made in the very last minute. Sanjay of Ziba Music received a phone call from me and for some odd reason he agreed to let us borrow a brand new Dhol from his father’s music shop. Moments such as this make me wonder how all these interactions are being orchestrated. Some voice in Sanjay’s head told him to say “Yes” to the request for the Dhol. That voice could have said anything, but the neurons in his brain fired in the favor of service. In that moment, something connected Sanjay to every single person who heard the Dhol that night.

When we arrived at Deerfield Community Center, teems of volunteers were already busy at work. Whether putting up decorations around the venue, chopping up fruit for the dinner, setting up the sound equipment, or preparing the welcome ceremony, everybody was engaged in service. To me, that is what these events are all about. As each volunteer is engaged in some physical external activity, something internally is happening to them as well. At the external level, they may be chopping melons, but beneath the surface their lives are being utilized for something beautiful.

… and then all of a sudden all of us become one to that spirit.

With rangoli and chalk decorations, Dhol blasting, puja aarti, and hand made necklace, everyone knew this was a night to remember. I can only imagine what would go through the minds of the guests as they entered. The idea was to transport everyone to a place they had never been. No, that place was not India, but a place that existed in their own hearts.

Guests were urged to partake in the delicious Punjabi food offered by the Sikh Community. 45 minutes later our emcee of the night, Jason, kicked things into gear by inviting Deepali, the musician, to sing the Om Tat Sat Prayer. Although she was not versed in the prayer, her voice and her heart emanated a strong vibration that made the entire room fall silent. I looked over at Virenbhai to see if he approved. His hands folded and his eyes tightly shut reminded me of where I should be. I folded my hands, and closed my eyes.

Then it was our turn. One by one, fourteen travelers took the stage to talk about how the India trip had impacted them. Each traveler spoke about some unique aspect of the trip. Like a rushing ocean wave, thoughts of the entire trip flooded back: the Seva Cafe, bathing the kids in the slums, playing cricket at the blind school, the Christmas party, Manav Sadhna hospitality, the plane ride, dinners in silence, the streets of India, the Mexican Food Fiesta, the toilets, the marriage, Samvedhna, Utthan, Dinner at Nirali’s house… everyone spoke with gratitude.

People were already beginning to sense the power of the evening, but nothing prepared them for what was to come next. Nirali took to the stage and started her speech off with 20 seconds of silence. She spoke about the things that matter most in life: small ideas, ordinary people and a simple thing called love. It seemed as if every word she uttered connected the audience with a deeper part of themselves. Words are never enough, but these words had major impact. People were literally moved to tears.

After Nirali’s speech, Virenbhai was asked to come to the stage. He took things to a whole new level. The movement to tears continued as people caught a glimpse of the awesome potential behind Virenbhai. He spoke about Manav Sadhna, about his own journey, and about his “kids”. It still amazes me that people on the earth can care so much for others.

John came up to the stage and broke service down in its simplicity: “We serve others because it makes us happy”. Enough Said! He updated everyone on the Seva Cafe concept and even had the details of the Los Angeles Seva Cafe memorized.

The night closed with the musicians singing sweet songs. Everyone was at home.

In random conversations at the end of the night I realized that the entire evening had been special not because of the volunteers or because of the speeches but because of the love that existed in every person in the room. The feeling that we all experienced wasn’t just emanating from us but was also reverberating from each and every heart in the room. Every person at the event made a decision to be receptive, to be open, to share a piece of themselves with others. If any one person was missing, or any one thing was different that night would not have been what it was.

Although the attendees thanked us for the invitation… we thanked them for inviting us into a place within their hearts. A place that knows no names, knows no countries, and knows no words.

It was hard to tear away from the inspiring night, we ended up spending a few hours in the parking lot even after everyone had left. I stood in the back with Mike and Angel and we reflected on how beautiful it was that people had come together in the spirit of service. Where there was no connections before, somehow our love for humanity had brought us all together.

John and Thoi left at 5AM. John was heading back for his 10 year old niece, Nora’s, birthday party. Instead of receiving gifts for her birthday she decided to ask her friends to donate to the World Wildlife Fund instead. Now that is a birthday party you don’t want to miss.

Sunday morning Nirali, Virenbhai, Bindi and Soham traveled to the Rama Krishna Monastery. I slept in. When I woke, I started to prepare my home for the gathering in the evening.

At 6pm volunteers showed up. Everyone grabbed a task and went to it. We wanted to decorate the place with the same enthusiasm as the Manav Sadhna staff had for us. Somehow, organically the lawn outside started to look like Dinner at Nirali’s house in India. Even the statue of Buddha made an appearance outside.

We welcome our esteemed guests with a Dhol entrance. We had a potluck style dinner, discussed our latest adventures in life, and ate a lot of food. Inside the home, Virenbhai shared how he was overwhelmed with the love he was receiving. Payback we all thought, considering how overwhelmed we all felt with the love we received in India.

After dinner we sat in the renovated garage and we naturally gravitated towards prayer. Virenbhai started off with “Vaishnava Janto” (translation below). He even sang a special request from Laura. Laura’s nieces, Eva and Laura sang a few Christian based songs. Even my land-lady came in and blessed the home with some devotional chanting. Bindi and Soham, along with Angel and Carolina sang some Latin songs. Different cultures, religions, and backgrounds, all coming together in a space of goodness. The room was a good model for the entire planet.

The next morning, we met Angela, Don and Whitney at the Free Wheelchair Mission. When we walked into the building the photographs of smiling faces of people receiving wheelchairs in developing countries greeted us and made us feel at home. Then, when we saw the founder, Don, in his office using an actual wheelchair instead of an office chair, we knew we had arrived at someplace special.

After the discussions, Don said a few words about the Lord, and Virenbhai said a few words about the Lord. It seemed as if the two of them belonged to the same religion.

We made our move to the Seva Cafe location. We ate some of the great food, sat in silence, and said a few prayers. To no-one’s surprise sitting on the bookshelf was a book of Swami Vivekananda with a photograph of his statue smiling down on us. Quite serendipitous considering that Virenbhai, Nirali, Bindi and Soham had just visited the Rama Krishna Monastery the day before and the photograph on the book was of the same statue that they had just seen.

We dropped off Virenbhai at the airport 40 minutes before his flight. The receptionist said that he was too late and that he had missed his flight. So not only were we late in picking up Virenbhai from the airport, we were also late in dropping him off. Balance in the universe. Of course the flight receptionist sensed kindness in the air, and she too got struck by it. Scurrying to the other counter she arranged for Virenbhai’s boarding and even got his luggage checked in.

The moment of Virenbhai’s departure was a strong one. Our drive back home was a silent one. We could sense that a great presence had just come into our lives.

Vaishnava Janto Translation

“Who is a Vaishnava, a true man of God?
The man who experiences in himself the pain of another
Who soothes the distress of others
Who is not puffed up with notions of ‘achievement’ or great age
Who respects all creatures in creation
Who speaks ill of none
Whose senses are firmly restrained
Whose tongue does not utter untruth
Who does not touch what he does not own
Such is a Vaishnava
In his pure self are found all the places of pilgrimage.”

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